Leading Men – In two contests against the Sabres in Buffalo earlier this season, the Caps allowed a combined total of six goals against in the two first periods. Digging early holes proved to be a poor formula for success; the Caps lost both of those games by three or more goals.
In Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo, the Caps took a penalty in the game’s first minute and fell down 1-0 when the Sabres scored on the ensuing power play.
Tonight, the Caps turned that same trick on the Sabres, taking the earliest lead they’ve taken in any game this season and holding it for the rest of the night. The result was a hard-earned 3-1 victory for the Capitals, who have not trailed at any point in their last three home games.
Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal came at 1:42 of the first, the earliest the Caps have scored in any game this season. Nicklas Backstrom added one in the second, a goal that proved to be the game-winner.
After the Capitals dominated the first half of the game, they white-knuckled their way through the rest of it as Buffalo mounted a formidable surge midway through the middle frame. The Sabres’ Jochen Hecht scored late in the second to halve the Caps’ advantage to 2-1, but thereafter the Washington defense bent but did not break.
Washington had a great deal of difficulty generating scoring chances and getting pucks to the net after the middle of the second, but the sturdy netminding of Tomas Vokoun – and a spate of blocked shots in front – kept the Sabres from notching the equalizer.
The Caps lurked in the weeds and waited, and finally the Sabres made a mistake. Alexander Semin collected the puck in neutral ice and fed Backstrom along the right wing wall. Backstrom gained the line and spotted Ovechkin driving toward the high slot and set him up for a one-timer, and the Caps’ captain delivered a rocket that Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller had no hope of stopping.
Given the extra breathing room with just under six minutes remaining, the Caps were able to usher their way to their 19th win of the season.
“We have to have a pretty good start,” says Ovechkin. “I think we had a great start and the second period they just changed the game on their side, but what can you do? Unbelievable job again, [goaltender Tomas Vokoun] kept us in the game, made some big saves and we scored goals.”
Vokoun stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced to earn his 14th victory of the season. The veteran netminder has now stopped 72 of the last 75 shots he has faced (.960 save pct.). He stopped 41 of 43 shots against the Sabres in two appearances (one in relief) against them this week.
He was at his best when the Caps needed him most, when the game was on the line late and Buffalo was relentlessly storming the attack zone.
“They are a good team,” says Vokoun of the Sabres. “And they don’t shoot unnecessary, even when they get the puck on the blue line, they wait for guys to drive to the net. They’re just not going to shoot it when they see they have a clear lane to the net and the goalie can see it. They are, to me, one of the toughest teams to play against because they do these little plays and shots; you have all these guys battling in front of the net. It’s not often you get 40 shots from Buffalo, but they select their shots and they take the good ones.”
Multiple Man – A game after he ended his drought without a multiple-point game at a career-high 23, Ovechkin notched his first two-goal game since Oct. 29 at Vancouver. He had gone 26 games between multiple-goal games, the second-longest drought of his NHL career. He went 37 games between multiple-goal games last season, the longest dry spell of his career.
Ovechkin now has a team-high 14 goals on the season, and his 29 points are second to Backstrom’s 38.
Ovechkin now has a five-game scoring streak (four goals, three assists), his longest of the season. It’s his longest scoring streak since he picked up a point in seven straight games (four goals, seven assists) from Feb. 26-March 11, 2011.
Friday Night At The Fights – Tonight was Washington’s 36th game of the season and it’s the first in which the Capitals picked up more than one fighting major.
Both fights occurred in the first frame. Jason Chimera went with Buffalo blueliner Mike Weber at 12:26. Weber boarded Chimera in the corner on the game’s first shift, and the minor penalty he received resulted in an Ovechkin power play strike at 1:42 of the first.
While those two were still cooling their heels in the penalty boxes, Washington winger Troy Brouwer and Buffalo blueliner dropped the mitts and went at it. It turned out to be a poor decision for Ehrhoff, the Sabres’ top defenseman in terms of ice time per game, who missed the remainder of the game with an upper body injury and may be out for an extended period of time.
For Brouwer, the bout with Ehrhoff was his third of the season and Chimera’s scrap was his second.
Last season, the Caps had five games in which they had multiple fighting majors. The most recent one was a March 25 match at Ottawa in which the Caps’ D.J. King fought the Sens’ Francis Lessard and Washington’s Matt Bradley went with Ottawa’s Zack Smith.
The Capitals went 2-3 in their multiple-fight games in 2010-11.
Century City – Backstrom’s first-period goal was the 100th of his NHL career. It came in his 359th career NHL contest. He is the 25th player in franchise history to score 100 goals in a Capitals sweater.
Backstrom now has 100 goals and 261 assists for 361 points, just a shade better than a point-per-game pace for his career.
Point Man – Vokoun picked up an assist on the first Ovechkin goal, his second helper of the season. Both have come on power play goals.
Vokoun is the first Caps goalie with more than one assist in a season since Jose Theodore in 2009-10. Tonight’s assist was the 21st of Vokoun’s NHL career. His career high is six with Florida in 2007-08.
Home Killing – Washington’s penalty killing outfit shut down the Sabres on their lone power play of the night. The Caps have now killed off 22 of 22 opposition power play chances over their last eight home games.
Washington last allowed a power play goal on home ice in a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 25. That was the last home game behind the bench for ex-Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.
By The Numbers – Defenseman Dennis Wideman led the Capitals with 24:39 in ice time. Wideman and Ovechkin led the Caps with 3:08 in power play time each … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on net … Ovechkin and Matt Hendricks paced the Caps with four hits each … Thirteen of Washington’s 18 skaters was credited with at least one blocked shot on the night. Karl Alzner led the way with four … Weber took five shots for the Sabres. All five were blocked.